“You’re just using cancer as an excuse,” one of my children said when I did not do something he wanted. Dagger! Dagger! I hid in my closet and cried.
How could a child of mine say something so hurtful?
After all, I was going through an extremely difficult time. But then, so was he. His mom was fighting cancer and there was nothing he could do to control or change it. Moms aren’t supposed to get sick. Some days I may have looked okay, but inside I was struggling to keep that “positive attitude” everyone wanted me to maintain (including myself).
In truth, I was worried about how I could parent three children well when I was so tired and uncomfortable with occasional mouth sores, pain, constant runny nose, general fatigue, etc. I was not spending my days having fun. I was home resting and “just” walking for exercise, eating very carefully, going to bed early, and avoiding germs — which meant crowds, schools, parties etc. Not doing many activities and being in discomfort, constantly managing symptoms, and hanging out with people who are dying from cancer takes a mental and emotional toll that most people don’t share. At times, I tried to explain this to my children, but they didn’t really understand.
They wanted Mom back. Mom that was super healthy. Mom that did so much for her kids.
One lesson I learned was that I had to remain calm. I did not have energy for loud talking (fondly called “yelling”) at or with my children. I needed more quiet than ever before, and even going up and down the stairs to help with various tasks took longer and more energy.
Of course, three teenage siblings bicker a lot. I was fortunate to have a helper some of the time, but it seems the children still wanted to pull me into every argument. I simply couldn’t handle all of that and would have to lie down on the sofa or in my room for a bit just to get through an evening. My bedtime was earlier than that of the children, so they would often have to “put me to bed.”
I had to let go of this idea of being the “perfect” parent and my helicopter blades slowed some, though I still tried to do what I could.
I have come to love the calm, quiet parenting style. I don’t always use it, but I definitely try more often than not. I remind the children that I can only talk with them when they speak to me in a calm way. Once all the treatment and surgeries are over, I hope I can maintain this kind of environment. The torrent that is life with teenagers is antithetical to calm, but it is worth a try. Cancer is not an excuse, it is a reason. But one can use it as a reason to make changes for the better.
Terri, my mentor, says “Cancer can either make you bitter or make you better.” I choose the latter.
Up next: Managing Expectations